Pity the poor software vendors
Yes, we know that no one has ever said that and really meant it, but this week has been a tough one to be a clinical software vendor, what with being unfairly maligned by a high-profile medical college, caught up in a state election campaign and otherwise taking the blame for all manner of ills.
Poor old EPAS in Adelaide came in for yet another beating from local rag the Advertiser last week, which reported that 25,000 outpatients were missing an urgency rating following a transfer from the old booking system to EPAS, which clinicians will now have to fix up and are rightly grumbling about.
While this problem was caused by the previous system and not the new one, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was all the fault of EPAS and yet another stumble in its storied journey. On Friday, former senator Nick Xenophon released his health policy, which simply copies the Liberal Party's stated policy from last year – what a surprise – to pause the roll out of EPAS while its worth is re-evaluated.
Not even the AMA is calling for that as they just want the problems to be fixed and to get on with it, but everyone loves to hate on EPAS, it seems. The real surprise is that it wasn’t blamed for Royal Adelaide’s potentially catastrophic power failure this week, when the lights went out while people were in surgery. In a moment of light relief, so to speak, the ABC reported that some patients had already been “anaesthetised and incubated”, leading us to wonder whether they were being operated on or something was about to hatch.
Something that was truly catastrophic was the avoidable death of a 54-year-old man at Macquarie University Hospital in 2015, which was in the news this week due to an inquest into the matter. We won't harp on this as it's an absolute tragedy all around, but while some fingers were pointed at the TrakCare clinical information system, which had just been rolled out at the hospital and which the doctor in question had little training in, it is clear from this report that the inbuilt warning messages about opioid prescribing in Trak were overlooked and the disaster was a case of multiple examples of human error. Alarms and alerts about potential medication interactions are often cited as an annoyance to doctors, but clearly they have their value.
Our biggest story this week concerned the release of a joint statement from the RACGP and ADHA about a project we first reported on back in December, which put forward the idea of developing a minimum set of requirements for general practice software. The main thrust of the statement was that the college and ADHA were intent on ensuring that such software was “usable, secure, interoperable and fit for purpose”. But as the medical software vendor association argues, who's saying it isn't?
The phrase “usable, secure, interoperable and fit for purpose” and variations of such date back quite a few years but they don't concern GP software. It's actually a demand that has been repeated regularly by doctors' groups about the essential requirements, still sorely lacking, of the PCEHR/MyHR. The argument goes that while interoperability still needs some work for GP software, if it wasn't usable, safe and fit for purpose, no one would be buying it.
We had a quick chat to the RACGP's eHealth committee chairman Nathan Pinskier on Thursday about the hoo-ha and he assures us that the plan is still as it was when the parties all last met, that there is still a free-ranging discussion to be had about whether it was even desirable for a minimum set of standards to be devised, and if so, what it would look like. We get the feeling that Monday's statement was a mistake but that it would soon be rectified by the parties getting together again over a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.
We'll leave our thoughts at that but we'd like to know yours. This week's poll question is: do you think clinical software vendors come in for unfair criticism?
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In last week's poll we asked: Do you think new technologies really can reduce the cost of healthcare? 75 per cent said yes, 25 per cent said no.